The ultimate Western US road trip

Who doesn't dream of exploring the American west at the wheel of a fast car, armed with a great driving playlist?

I say it often, but I'm truly convinced that I have the best job in the world! Being a travel consultant allows me to experience what hundreds of others only dream of, every year.

For all those who have considered going travelling in the western US, I think I have succeeded in putting together what is, for me, the ultimate road trip to do at least once in your lifetime.

Let’s hit the road, Jack!  
 

Road trip map

road trip usa map
Map of the ultimate Western U.S. road trip

 

Road trip summary

Days 1 to 3 : San Francisco 

3-week itour of the American West
San Francisco

Start your ultimate US road trip in the most European of American cities.

Several airlines offer direct flights from the major European centres. When you arrive, spend a few days to enjoy the city. There is so much to do and see!

Don't miss the tour of Alcatraz Prison! Having done it, I can assure you that it's worth it.

price alcatraz tour
Alcatraz Prison

Here are some of my other favourite things to do in San Francisco:

  • Visit Fisherman’s Wharf and the famous sea lions of Pier 39.
  • Bike across the Golden Gate Bridge to the best-known viewpoints.
  • Ride the cable car early in the morning (to avoid the crowds).
  • Visit the ruins of the Sutro Baths
  • Enjoy a typical Mexican meal in the Mission District (I'm a bit of a foodie!)
     

And I could go on and on! Be sure to check out our San Francisco travel guide to plan your stay according to your interests.


Days 4-5 : Yosemite  (315 km)

hiking yosemite park
Yosemite National Park

Today you head for Yosemite, the third largest park in all of California, which is widely considered to be one of the most spectacular parks in the United States.

Yosemite Valley promises awe-inspiring scenery: massive granite cliffs, powerful waterfalls, giant sequoias,... It certainly deserves its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The section of the park with the most famous views is accessible by car and by bus all year round.

Things to do while visiting the park:

  • Stop at Tunnel View for a stunning panorama.
  • For families, the short trail to Yosemite Falls offers breathtaking scenery.
  • Take the winding road leading up to Glacier Point. This viewpoint is considered the most beautiful in the park.


Day 6 : Mammoth Lakes  (164 km)

what to do in mammoth lakes
Mammoth Lakes

This morning, take the famous Tioga Road, a scenic route through the Sierra Nevada mountains that runs through the northern section of Yosemite National Park.

Note that Tioga Road is closed from October to May due to snow accumulation at high altitudes. You will have to change your itinerary and stop in Sequoia rather than Mammoth Lakes.

Otherwise, today's destination is Mammoth Lakes, a corner of paradise nestled deep in a densely forested valley.

For outdoors enthusiasts, here are 2 relatively short hikes that are accessible for all hikers:

Crystal Lake Trail 

A panoramic view of the Mammoth Lakes Basin awaits! And you can't miss Crystal Crag, a granite monolith more than 10,000 feet high.

Distance: 4 kilometres
Time: +/- 3 hours round-trip
Level: East
Accessibility: June to November, from Lake George

Convict Lake Trail 

This trail hugs the shore of Convict Lake, meandering through groves of pine and aspen with the sheer granite slopes of Mount Morrison and Laurel Mountain rising above it.

Distance: 4 kilometres
Time: +/- 2 hours round-trip
Level: Very easy
Accessibility: June to November, from the Convict Creek Point parking.

 

Day 7 : Death Valley  (291 km)

death valley excursion
Hwy 190, Death Valley

Time to head to the mythical Death Valley. Quite a morbid name, I agree, but I assure you that you will be charmed by this mysterious place.

Tip 1: Enter the valley by Highway 190 and drive to Dante’s View. Then sit back and enjoy the desert view!

Tip 2: July and August are extremely hot. We're talking temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius. Plan your activities for early in the morning and above all bring water, lots of water!

 

Days 8-9 : Las Vegas  (242 km)

las vegas tourism
Las Vegas, City of Sin

Next, set a course for the largest city in the state of Nevada, the very eccentric Las Vegas.

Nicknamed the City of Sin, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Vegas is known for its countless casinos, its reputation as a party town, its fabulous hotels, its theatres, and for being a true temple of shopping. Here, nothing is too big or too extravagant.

Now is the time to enjoy it! To make your stay memorable, here are a few suggestions:

  • Watch the sound and light show in front of the famous Bellagio, one of the city's most beautiful hotels.
  • Take the whole family to the Adventure Dome, the indoor theme park at Circus Circus Hotel & Casino.
  • Celebrate the musical legacy of the Beatles at LOVE, a theatrical production by Cirque du Soleil.
  • Take a limousine tour of the Strip, like a celebrity, with your own chauffeur-guide.
map valley of fire
Excursion to the Valley of Fire

Finally, I suggest a half-day excursion to Valley of Fire State Park, renowned for its red and orange sandstone landscapes and its prehistoric petroglyphs.

 

Day 10 : Zion  (325 km)

visit zion national park
Zion National Park

Your ultimate US road trip continues with Zion National Park.

Zion meant "paradise" to the Mormons who discovered it, and personally I find the name very appropriate. What a magnificent place!

Hiking is the main activity here, and visitors have many options to choose from. I invite you to check out our in-house Zion travel guide for more information. I'm sure you'll find something to suit you, no matter what kind of hiker you are.

 

Day 11 : Bryce Canyon  (112 km)

USA road trip bryce canyon
Bryce Canyon National Park

Today you head for Bryce Canyon, my favourite park! It's a must-see Western US destination!

This one-of-a-kind park is characterized by an amphitheatre filled with hundreds of rocky pillars and spires topped by a rock "cap", called Hoodoos.

Whether you enjoy hiking or not, there are many breathtaking views within easy reach on foot, by car or by the park's shuttle service.

accessible hikes
Accessible hikes

Tip 1: For the sake of the environment, use the park shuttle service to get around rather than your rental car (and you'll also avoid the hassle of parking).

Tip 2: Bring warm clothing. The park is at an elevation of 2,500 metres… You might be surprised by the temperature difference. If you're travelling in winter, you may even see snow!

Tip 3: You will change time zones here! Don't forget to set your watches to Mountain Time, 1 hour ahead!

 

Day 12 : Lake Powell  (232 km)

hiking horseshoe bend
Horseshoe Bend near Lake Powell

Back behind the wheel, today's destination is Lake Powell, the second-largest man-made lake in North America.

Be sure to stop at Horseshoe Bend along the way. I promise you a view of the Colorado River that you won't quickly forget. In fact, I'm sure you've already seen this famous photo. 

Antelope canyon upper or lower
Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell

Once in Lake Powell, take in the spectacular play of light and colour in Antelope Canyon. This magnificent slot canyon was carved by flash flooding after summer storms.

Please note that reservations are required for Antelope Canyon tours. Be sure to see our travel guide for more details.

 

Day 13 : Monument Valley  (277 km)

monument valley name of rock formations
Monument Valley 

Today, the Wild West awaits! Monument Valley is the ultimate symbol of American Westerns.

Be sure to do the 27-kilometre Monument Valley Scenic Drive, which winds its way through the heart of the park.

As the site is on Navajo Nation land, I strongly suggest taking a tour with a local Navajo guide. If you're interested, go to the wooden booth at the Visitor Center.

Oh, I almost forgot! In the evening at sunset, the valley is bathed in beautiful shades of red: the sight is quite stunning. Easily seen from the Visitor Center, there is no excuse not to enjoy this magic moment.

 

Days 14-15 : Grand Canyon  (369 km)

grand canyon by car
Grand Canyon

Next, head for the South Rim section of the Grand Canyon. It's the area most frequented by tourists, as it is the most accessible and most impressive part of the national park.

south rim trail grand canyon
Hiking along Rim Trail

Here are the main attractions you won't want to miss:

  • A tour of the Historic District of Grand Canyon Village with its early 20th century buildings.
  • A hike along Rim Trail. It's easy to get to and runs directly along the edge of the Grand Canyon.
  • A drive along Desert View Drive. This scenic 40-km stretch of road route is east of Grand Canyon Village.
  • A helicopter tour, the ultimate Grand Canyon experience!
     

 

Day 16 : Kingman  (283 km)

ultimate road trip USA
Kingman is the historic heart of Route 66

Your next destination is Kingman, the historic heart of Route 66.

Along the way, you will drive through typical small towns along Route 66 with their diners, motels and vintage billboards.

Kingman is generally considered a stopover town that helps break up the long distances between destinations. So take the time to make a few stops along the way: it will be a real trip back in time!

road trip route 66 USA
Mr. D’z Diner, Route 66

For dinner, I suggest stopping at Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner, a quintessential American roadhouse restaurant that serves up fast food in a decor straight out of the 1960s. The place is popular for its homemade pizza and root beer.

 

Days 17-18 : Los Angeles  (513 km)

los angeles tourism
Los Angeles

On the road again, direction the City of Angels.

Did you know that, every day, someone, somewhere, leaves everything behind and moves to LA to live his or her American dream of becoming a celebrity?

The city is huge and it's hard to get around by public transit. You should therefore plan to use your car to get around, but not during rush hour. You'll save a lot of time and will be able to make the most of the city's many attractions!

My favourite things to do include:

  • Olvera street in downtown LA, known as the birthplace of Los Angeles in 1781. Today it is a colourful Mexican marketplace that recreates an "Old Los Angeles" vibe with its pedestrian street and cafes, street vendors, restaurants and gift shops.
  • Film studios: Universal, Warner Bros and Paramount. If you're short on time and you're travelling with the family, go for the tour of Universal Studios. The team at Universal has created a fantastic amusement park on the site. You won't want to miss it!
  • Santa Monica, a coastal city known as a luxury seaside resort town. Be sure to visit the legendary amusement park on the pier. Yes, I'm a fan of amusement parks!
  • Venice Beach, the very popular LA beach town and most importantly, my favourite! The Venice boardwalk is bohemian and quite eccentric. You won't be bored, that's for sure! Be ready to see all kinds of people... everything is allowed here!
     

For more suggestions, check out our in-house travel guide.

 

Day 19 : Pismo Beach  (278 km)

pismo beach or santa barbara
Pismo Beach

Your road trip continues with Pismo Beach.

Surrounded by dunes and hills on either side, Pismo Beach is a stopover town offering an array of beach activities.

Be sure to visit Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve. Scientists and visitors alike agree that this is the largest and most beautiful area of sand dunes in California.

And if you're in the mood for some shopping, now is the time! The nearby Pismo Beach Premium Outlets is a great place to pick up top brand name items at very attractive prices.

 

Day 20 : Monterey  (252 km)

Bixby Bridge California
Bixby Creek Bridge

Today will be spent exploring the most spectacular stretch of Route 1, better known as Highway 1, which runs along the Pacific coast. This is considered by some to be the most beautiful stretch of coastline in the world.

Don't miss 17-Mile-Drive, a private, paid scenic route between Pacific Grove and Carmel, which is open to the public from sunrise to sunset.

best USA tour
Lone Cypress, the most photographed view on 17-Mile-Drive

Here are 3 spots you won't want to miss along 17-Mile-Drive:

  • Seal Rock, where you can stop for a picnic and watch the sea lions.
  • Cypress Point for its spectacular ocean view.
  • Lone Cypress, the most photographed view, where you will see a 250-year-old cypress alone on a rocky outcrop

 

Day 21 : San Francisco (193 km)

golden gate bridge length
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

All good things must come to an end  

Set a course for San Francisco, where you head to the San Francisco airport for your flight home.

It's time to leave the land of Uncle Sam with unforgettable memories!

Now that I've shared my favourites with you, I invite you to go and discover these beautiful treasures without hesitation. Keep your eyes open and enjoy every moment!

Do you agree that this itinerary is the ultimate Western US road trip?

Don't hesitate to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Karolane Lessard

An enthusiast of both our vibrant cities & great oudoors, my life revolves around travel & adventure. It's a no brainer that I have to share the wonders & secrets of my neck of the woods with other travelling souls. Enjoy the journey!

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